What to Do When You Feel Left Out, Unlucky, or Just Plain Ignored

Last week, I shared some surprising secrets about creative success and why it’s sometimes unfair. My intent was to show you how the “system” worked so you could use it to your benefit. What I didn’t realize is how discouraging that could be.

What to Do When You Feel Left Out, Unlucky, or Just Plain Ignored
Photo Credit: _Pixelmaniac_ via Compfight cc

One reader wrote, telling me that my story frustrated him. He didn’t live in Nashville and lacked the access to people that I had. So what hope did he have? Some female friends pointed out that my being a white male may have acted as an invisible advantage — even if I didn’t realize it.

The more I thought about these objections, the more aware I became. So I decided to write a public reply and share it with anyone who’s feeling discouraged about where they are in their creative work and what to do when playing by the rules doesn’t work.

But first, an apology…

The last thing I ever want to do with my work is to come across self-congratulatory or unhelpful. So if at any time I’ve done that with my blog, I’m sorry. I believe there are opportunities available to everyone, wherever you are, but sometimes those opportunities aren’t equal.

Yes, luck is often involved in the success of a creative individual. But what do you do when it just feels like the deck is stacked against you? What do you do when you don’t stand a chance against the lucky? That’s what I want to explore.

Keep practicing

Don’t give up. That’s my first piece of advice. In fact, it’s often my only advice for writers. Don’t quit. Keep going. It’s more important than you realize.

I spent seven years as a failed blogger before I finally figured out what I was doing wrong and how to fix it. But without that perseverance, I never would have learned.

Sometimes, when things aren’t working, the answer is to keeping going. Sometimes.

Maybe, though, you’re doing everything right and it’s just taking a little bit longer than you expected. That’s a possibility, too. We often want things to happen more quickly than they do, but that doesn’t mean they won’t at some point come to be.

So hang in there, keep practicing, and keep reaching out to people — not for the sake of getting them to notice you, but for the sake of helping them. As my dad always told me, “What goes around comes around.” And most of the time, I think he’s right.

Notice hidden opportunity

For many of us, opportunity is staring us in the face. We just fail to notice it.

How many stories are based on this truth — that the thing you love, the thing you’re most wired to do, is the thing you are ignoring? Every romantic comedy, every heroic tale, almost every great invention reinforces this:

But if there aren’t opportunities available, what do you do then? Go where the opportunity is. You don’t have to move to a new city, necessarily. You can connect with someone while they’re traveling through the area or save money to attend a conference where they’ll be. You can even Skype or email them.

There are always options for those willing to look.

Find your own table

Don’t try to get a seat at someone else’s table. Create your own.

On the surface, this may sound dismissive, like the scene in Forrest Gump where all the kids on the bus say, “Seat’s taken.” But that’s not what I’m saying at all.

I think that this is the only way new markets are discovered and brilliant ideas come about — not by getting invited to the same party everyone else is attending, but by sometimes throwing your own.

Personally I’m interested in exploring how we can create more opportunity for those feeling left out, dismissed, or overlooked. There are real inequities in our world, but working to overcome them is both honorable and possible.

You can’t escape the system

Here’s the truth, though. Every industry has its own set of rules and norms we have to play by for our work to be taken seriously. But what if that system rejects or just plain ignores you? Well, that doesn’t have to be the end of it.

There are a few options:

  1. Get better. This isn’t always the answer, but it often can be an answer. Steve Martin once said, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” I think there is some truth to that. It may not be fair, but you can work so hard your work has to stand out. It’s not right and definitely not fair, but it’s an option.
  2. Find another table. If the people in the system don’t like what you’re doing, create a new system. A new network. This is what the French Impressionists did when the gatekeepers of art at the time rejected them. They made their own art gallery, and invited people to it. Guess what? A century later, people remember them. The world eventually caught up with that band of misfits. Rejection by the mainstream led to the creation of a whole new art form.
  3. Change the system. This one is hard to do if you’re “outside” the system but not as impossible as it sounds. Jim Henson used advertising dollars to fund puppets who made fun of the very ads sponsoring the show. Oprah Winfrey climbed the ranks of an all-white media world to educate people on the importance of race (among other things). Use the system to subvert the system.

I think we all long for that beautiful moment in life when an unexpected voice says, “You can sit here if you want.” I would not be here if it weren’t for my life being filled with those voices. And my sense is most of us have had those people in our lives at some point. Maybe it didn’t come from a source you expected, but it came nonetheless.

My hope is that we can all be those voices for each other, that we can increase the size of the table and invite more people to the party. Call me naive, but I think there’s room for more.

Applying this

Last week, while speaking at a conference, someone asked me who inspires me. I think I said something like Walt Disney or Jim Henson. When I asked this person, an African American gentleman who started a homeless ministry, who inspires him, he said: “People who don’t have a voice.”

He then proceeded to tell me story after inspiring story of individuals without a platform whose lives are making a difference. Wow. That really challenged me to use my voice to help more people get their messages and stories heard.

This one reason why I’m looking forward to Tribe Conference this week. It’s my small way of trying to make the table a little bit bigger — by creating a new network, a place for people who have something to say but might not otherwise get heard.

I think the opportunities to do this kind of work, to create your own network and include those who may feel left out or discouraged by the system, are abundant. We just have to be willing to recognize and do something with them.

For more on using your disadvantages into advantages, check out Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath (which was where I first heard that story of the French Impressionists).

What do you think increasing the size of the table looks like? Practically, how can we (you and I) create more opportunity for others? Share your ideas in the comments.

81 thoughts on “What to Do When You Feel Left Out, Unlucky, or Just Plain Ignored

  1. “Find your own table” is such an important factor in creative success, but one that is also so difficult to achieve. Oftentimes, I’ll read the work of an author whom I’ve long admired, or an article online by someone I’ve never read before, and it’ll shock my mental system — what an incredible style they have, I’ll think. It will inspire me to write something of a similar caliber, and kickstarts my creative spirit, but ultimately I’m left wondering: Is this work of my own volition, or the afterthought of someone else’s?

    My goal is constantly to find my own table, a place that is all my own, where thoughts can come and go as they may, but my own intuitions will be the ones left sitting there, at the end. And what a remarkable goal that is!

    Jessica // http://www.jessicarmyers.com

  2. Hi Jeff,

    It’s interesting how differently people can react when a successful person “pulls back the curtain” to reveal a previously-hidden secret.

    Some people respond with an “Oh, THAT’S how you do it!”

    Some people respond with an “Oh, that will never work for me.”

    For some of us, our reactions are ingrained in our DNA, but for others it depends entirely on how we’re feeling at that point in our lives. Last week, I was feeling good, so I was in the “Oh, THAT’S how you do it!” group. A month ago? Well, that would have been a different story. 🙂

    Appreciate your great thoughts, Jeff, and I love your willingness to to let more people sit at the table. That’s one of the things I love about bloggers, writers, and entrepreneurs: They can empathize.

    Most professional athletes doesn’t know what it’s like to be an uncoordinated teen with big dreams. They walked on air as soon as they could walk, so they can’t relate.

    Ditto people who were born into money. They can’t relate to someone who has to work three jobs to survive.

    Heck, the same applies to tall people. How can they possibly relate to someone who struggles to reach the top of the refrigerator?

    But bloggers? Writers? Entrepreneurs? They remember what it was like starting out. They remember the days when crickets could be heard chirping every time they published a new piece of content.

    And as a result, they are often happy and willing to help others who are begging to be noticed. That’s what Brian Clark did for Jon Morrow, it’s what Michael Hyatt did for you, and it’s what you (I’m sure) have done for many others.

    Have fun at next week’s Tribe Conference! Wish I could go. It sounds like it will be a blast.


  3. Great advice!

    I think the most important takeaway from this is to work as hard as you can to make your work as good as you can. There’s nothing more annoying than people clamoring to be noticed for something that isn’t that great.

    I want to write novels, and while I do spend time building up an online presence, connecting with other writers, working on my blog–my priority is and will continue to be working on my craft.

    So that when I DO try and get a seat at the table–or start my own table–people will have a reason to listen to me.

    1. Yes yes yes “There’s nothing more annoying than people clamoring to be noticed for something that isn’t great.” You and me need to build our tables! And love what happens with our intention backed by our talent.

  4. Thanks for sharing this Jeff! I remember last week reading your piece feeling discouraged, okay maybe a bit envious, I wish I could be invited to Michael Hyatt’s house. But that’s me, not anything you did. I appreciate the honesty about your success and the commitment you have towards others to achieve their own success. I consider you a valuable mentor and resource!

    Now, I’m still trying to find my “table,” but if need be, I’ll learn carpentry and build my own.

    Keep up the great work!

  5. Hi Jeff, I really appreciate this piece. While I thought your previous piece on creative success was quite fair and well-written, I can see why it felt incomplete to some. Ultimately I do think that the system does not grant the same favors to everyone, but it doesn’t mean that there is no place for those who have something to offer. Thanks for this addendum; please keep encouraging writers!

  6. Jeff I enjoyed last weeks post, but this one spoke to me a little deeper. I handle the discouragement by learning. Each time I get a negative response to what I am trying to achieve, I learn from it. I love the Steve Martin quote and aspire to refining my skills in all areas. I love that I can go online and find a course (they all have special discount days if you wait) and I get excited when I learn something new. I live in a remote rural area where there is not much action in the writing department but when my Picture book and my novel are ready I know I will reach further afield to get them noticed, thanks to the (Tribe/writers course.) Thanks again for inspiring me today to keep at it. Have a great day.

  7. Thank you for writing this, Jeff. I enjoy and agree with your call to “make your own table.” I was one of the kids who benefitted from people who did this in public school, so the metaphor seems clear to me.
    The attitude of noticing opportunity and keeping your head up has always helped me out, and I’m glad you mention this. As someone who tends to have more luck than other people I know and love, I am glad you made this offer to connect with people who feel less favored by the system. I would like to join you in it.

    1. I actually didn’t benefit from this at school, so maybe that’s why I’m passionate about it now and in my own way found a table where I was welcome. Thanks for sharing, Chris! Let’s build something great together.

  8. Great response, Jeff. In everything I’ve read from you I’ve sensed an honest tone of thankfulness for the success you have found in the last couple of years. I find it inspiring to read your story. Your focus on art and building a bridge allows for the possibility of continuing to do art even if the payoff or paycheque is low. This year I released my first novel, and while I want more readers, I will write the next one regardless of the “success” because it was life giving and just a whole lot of fun.

  9. Thank you! Great piece. I quit my job and am starting a ministry to basically create my own table. This is encouraging!
    And, I am trying to help a friend know how to have more impact. I will give him this piece. It will be great to talk with him about it. It will help him.
    Thank you.

  10. Great stuff Jeff! If nothing else, your humility in dealing with backlash is an excellent lesson.
    I think creating more space at the table is to be the one to invite others.
    I was lucky enough to learn this leason young, being somewhat of an outsider with an insiders personality. I learned to connect with perfect strangers by investing interest in them and engaging them in conversation about what their interests and passions were, and simply finding the areas that intersect.
    I think that’s what it comes down to, finding common interests and engaging in conversation.
    Thanks again for your openness!

  11. Whenever I feel, as I always do, that there’s no market for me and whatever I create in this world, I simply tell myself that Van Gogh never sold a painting during his lifetime. Doesn’t mean there was anything wrong with the way he painted.

    1. Yes, but there is, of course, the fact that he had Theo, who bankrolled him for 10 years and made the art possible. And let’s not forget Theo’s wife Johanna who sold all the work after the two brothers died. There’s always a network, it seems.

      1. Sure, but even absent a network for ultimate success, just because no one cares, or seems to care, about what we do doesn’t necessarily mean there’s anything wrong with what we do or with the way we do it. (There may be, but who’s the ultimate and infallible judge of that?)

        Just as truth isn’t determined by a show of hands, audience resonance may be a poor indicator of the fundamental quality or validity of our work.

        Capitalizing on it is a different story. If our goal is to harvest love, admiration, or riches — or lots of clicks, comments, and Likes on our Internet postings — and everything we do falls flat in those respects, we’ve failed as far as our stated goals.

        But even if no one on earth seems to like what we do, how are we to know that God doesn’t like it? (At least that’s what I tell myself. And I don’t even believe in God.)

        1. I think there is inherent value to creative work, regardless of the accolades it gets. Yes, I think God likes it (and I do believe in God). But I do think that if you make art, then there’s nothing wrong with wanting that work to make an impact. And yes, I believe with Theo and Johanna, we would not know who Vincent van Gogh is. So this idea that you can just create work that nobody cares about today and someone will eventually discover it, in my opinion, is misguided. I may be wrong, but I can’t find a precedent for it.

  12. Great response, Jeff. I live in the middle of Nebraska, 4 hours away from any major airport. I am also a female in the heart of evangelical complimentarianism. But grappling with and casting out the fear that oozes around these obstacles has been the very thing that motivates my voice now.
    Something I’ve realized is that I need conferences to meet like-minded people who do what I want to do. And that costs money and a lot of time. I would enjoy coming to your Tribewriters conference, perhaps next year! Someday I will get there or join a course you offer or do something to repay you for all of the inspiration and ideas you have given me the past few months. For now I just keep recommending you to other writers and creatives.
    I’m working on my first (worst) book right now. Gotta get it out of the way so I can get to the good stuff. 🙂

    1. I love Nebraska! “Somewhere in middle America.” Would love to have you come to the next Tribe Conference! In the meantime, keep doing what you’re doing.

    2. Hi Andrea
      I feel your pain (though I’m much closer than four hours from an airport!)
      I’ve started and run successful masterminds in the past, which were all live and face to face, but toying with the idea of creating one though Google Hangouts.
      If this is something you’d be interested in discussing, you can reach me at kevin@fulfilledpurpose.com and we could chat more about creating something to suppor thise of us that aren’t able for one reason or another to travel to conferences. Maybe we could even call it “Far From Franklin”!

      1. Ha! I like it. “Far From Franklin.”
        I am open to exploring this idea, Kevin. I’ll shoot you an email.

  13. Jeff, I appreciate you taking a moment to think about your own privilege and what it might be like for someone who doesn’t have that. It is particularly difficult for a white man in America to do that and I respect you for making an effort. Taking a deep breath and confronting our advantages is often much more difficult than confronting our weaknesses.

    There are definitely two sides to this story. Yes, women are still marginalized in many genres in the publishing world (and the world in general). Yes, it is easier for a white man to get people to listen to him than for a black man to. It isn’t fair and I think we need to continue to work towards leveling that playing field. I can remember reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book a few years ago and becoming more and more disheartened as I realized how much luck and class really do have to do with success. We love the rags-to-riches stories, but they are extremely rare and the exception that proves the rule.

    But you make a real and important point, and that is to focus on what we can control. Who is to say that we can’t change it if we all reach out a hand to someone else who is trying.

  14. Jeff, (and everyone else)

    I know for myself someone who hasn’t “hit it big” that I could complain (okay maybe I have a few times) that the right people are not in my circle of influence. The truth is there are no major publishing firms in Terre Haute, Indiana (where I was when I first self-published my book) and especially not in Tell City were I am not. However, I am a perfect example of hidden opportunities and finding my own table.

    My children’s book has excellent illustrations because a friend, I had for years, told me about his brother in Michigan who had never been published. We worked out a deal he did the twenty some pictures for free with the deal that I would help promote him (His info is on my website, he is great!).

    Talking and sharing the book a person in an online class I was in asked if he could “please” translate it into his language of Lao. He had host of others helping make sure he did it right also. A relative ask a friend, a English and Spanish teacher from Mexico, if she might enjoy translating it into Spanish.

    Later, a graphic designer in a Facebook group was so appreciative of the encouragement he received that he pick at random someone to do a book cover for. So my book got a wonderful new look also free of charge.

    I have a few more stories like this and it is amazing.

    Now, I am not making thousands of dollars, but when I think about everything I have found, opportunities in unusual places and found a table which is all my own even living in an area not noted for publishing, I smile.

    So don’t underestimate where you are and who you know.

      1. I love offer people a free copy of the book if they can read the back cover (of the Lao version). I haven’t given one away yet and no one has even guessed he language. Life is cool.

  15. Glad I’m not the only one who felt that way with the post! The problem I had with that post was that I couldn’t relate to it. Not only was I not white, I don’t live in America and worse, I’m in a developing country where I’m totally isolated from the influencers you were talking about. How do I reach out to these so called big shots in the blogging world and have coffee with them?

    So I was put off by the post, thinking: Well, sure that applies to THEM. But me? I’m not sure what to get from the post except that your kind of success is unreachable to people of my demographic.

    It WAS discouraging.

    So, thanks for your honesty.

    YET, I believe our success is not purely determined by people you know but by our attitudes. Having thoughts like, “Well, he’s had the success he’s had because he’s a white, male American” doesn’t help. So what if it’s true? All we can do is be the best we can be and do the best we can despite our circumstances.

    Still, I feel a little exhausted reading this post. It feels like climbing up a massive, immovable hill … 😉

      1. You are welcome Jeff. I love honest posts like these. And I actually agree with you. success can be unfair. I had a successful blog before and i got a good start because my first post was mentioned by an influencer in my field. But the success that followed was because of hard work – which was a joy – of posting regularly and being a ‘prophet’ blogger who both inspired n riled people up. heh.

        Anyway, I have to say I may be looking at things through the glasses of burnout so everything is exhausting and discouraging to me! During better times I would have smiled, agreed and maybe get a little envious lol.

        I am happy for your success btw. And your earlier post about worldview was a hanger for me so you are doing good work ?

  16. Yes I think i commented last week about Jeff having advantages being a white male. Good to see he acknowledges that. And again all the examples are stacked against the minority ( I dont just mean race,thats a huge factor though, I mean socio economic status as well and who and where you are born etc ) nice try anyway. God Bless You.

    1. That is a mind set. SORRY to tell you that. I was what most people would call one step above white trash. For years my teachers and others told me I would never amount to anything especially when I took a test to get out of high school after only 2 1/2 years. I just kept thinking “These people do not know who I am”. While it took hard work, perseverance, and time. I worked my way from being a clerk in an office to being the Director of Fiscal Services with 9 people on my staff. I went from not finishing high school to achieving a BS in Business with an emphasis in accounting. I just received my degree in 2014. I started in the 1970’s – YES I started as a teenager and finished my degree when I was 54. I took classes at community colleges and some correspondence (before the internet). I found a way. Oh by the way, I also had some major life issues happen and a chronic health problem. But, it does take CHOICE – did I go have fun or do my homework? So if you want something, put on your WOMAN’S pants, make some decisions in your favor and take action. Just to wind up – because of my health issues, I can no longer work but figure out ways to contribute to a better world. GOOD LUCK!

  17. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a site dedicated to the sole purpose of connecting people with similar goals and visions in their writing and art? A table building website if you will. Something different than facebook. If that site already exists, please let us know about it.

  18. Hi, Jeff. I have always found your writing sincere and authentic, which is mostly why I keep reading you, but this is the first time that I, as someone born into fewer opportunities and lesser privilege, felt heard and acknowledged by you. So thank you for that.

    Your post also got me thinking of looking for tables that feel more true to me, or even starting one. With that, I feel more compelled to do the work in Tribe Writers, especially that bit on identifying your voice. Thank you.

  19. I’m reminded of the giant in Ender’s Game who always gave Ender’s video game character two cups to choose from. No matter which cup Ender chose, the choice was always fatal for his character. So Ender invented his own option.
    I feel that the system–like the giant–has created the illusion that there is a limited number if options for us. But in some ways, we are more powerful than we think. When realize this, we can make our own options and build our own tables.

  20. I am so proud of Terence Lester and his wife Cecelia from Love Beyond Walls. They are making a big difference in the Metro Atlanta area and are helping to stoke a fire around the world…helping to transform the lives of those who do not have to means to do it themselves is what we will remember. This does not simply change minds. It changes hearts.

  21. I wholeheartedly agree about finding another table. I mean no disrespect to some of your readers, but as a woman, I find many opportunities that are not available to a man. I mean, pretty much no one wants to hear from a man on a mommy blog.

  22. To this day I still wonder how I ended up performing for the Latin association of a corporation – me an Asian dude with my partner, a Swedish gal. I share some of my story here – https://bit.ly/tangotribe – but I not only believe that there are so many tribes waiting for us, I’ve experienced this firsthand.

    Is it easy? Of course, not. But that’s the point of the hero’s journey for each of us. Joseph Campbell reminded us how since the beginning of time we each have our own quest to conquer. Great reminder of how somewhere a tribe is waiting for us to slay our creative dragons, Jeff.

  23. Jeff, I so appreciate your vulnerability, encouragement and honesty. I definitely feel stuck at times and this post is inspiring. Thank you.

  24. What an uplifting post, Jeff. This is what I enjoy about your blog — you’re gracious and authentic.

    If we want to create more opportunities for others we need to be on the lookout for the newbies and underdogs in our industries. It’s about reaching out every now and then to someone who hasn’t made it big. A simple tweet of one of their latest posts can mean the world to them. A personal email with an offer to answer any questions or share a few tips might be the encouragement the need to get started or keep moving.

  25. Oh, Jeff. Haha Oh how tiny my table has been. Indeed I have created a table for myself, and pushed my way into a few others. I was not the cool kid in school, so this was a bit awkward for me at times. 😀 I blogged about how I’ve connected with blogging and writing influencers, and it does have everything to do with persistence. Thanks for this post.

  26. I’ve learned that sometimes I need to just walk up and take a seat at the table, not necessarily waiting for an invitation. If that’s not appropriate, I’ll at least introduce myself and sit close by.

  27. I appreciate your helping those who may not otherwise get heard. I hope those not attending the conference will still get to hear some of the ideas you’ll be sharing.

  28. Hi Jeff,

    I think there are a lot of people who have similar story or are facing the situation you are describing, including myself.

    I live and work in Cambodia, a developing country, where opportunity is something very hard to find. People in my country are busy to earn their living. They rarely spend money to buy books. There are only a few publishing companies.

    It’s hard for a writer to earn a living from their writing.

    As you mentioned, I keep writing. I look for opportunity to write for those who could have enough money to buy my books. I have a writing book project about presenting Khmer food to tourists who first visit the country.

    Hope I am on the right track and I keep going on my way.

  29. There certainly is inequality in opportunity and I like your idea Jeff about creating your own opportunities. Apolgies for digressing from writing, but please bear with me. If anyone has been watching the World Athletics championships, you might have seen the powerful Kenyan launch a mighty javelin throw not far short of the world record to take the gold medal. It was certainly unexpected because Europe usually produces javelin champions. What is more remarkable is that Kenyan Julius Yego is self-taught. He learnt to throw the javelin by watching UTube videos of world record holder Jan Zelezny because coaching in Kenya is geared for runners. There’s a lesson here on how we can learn from others, put in the hard work, and create our opportunities even when we’re physically isolated. Training, or writing, on your own is tough, but like Yego, we need faith that our dedication to learning and improving will pay off in the long run.

  30. Reading this made me a lot more hopeful about getting noticed. My writing practice has only become regular in the past few months, and as I research publishing I’ve found everyone saying “Network! Network!” which scares a shy and busy person like me. I figure if you and others can reach out when opportunities are sparse than so can I. I agree that opportunities are hard to notice… I often don’t realize they’re there until someone points it out to me, lol! I will have to look harder! Thanks for the motivation, Jeff.

  31. Thanks Jeff! I really appreciate how you did not get annoyed with the person who wrote you and tell him to take responsibility (as I would have :)). Rather, you offered help!

    I love what you put about creating your own table. I’ve been thinking about starting my own networking group to support other Work from Home Moms and this article really inspired me to do that! Thanks for letting God speak though you to me.

  32. Ok, I read this already, but you know what? I didn’t need it as much then as I did tonight. Thank you, and goes to show, posts are worth re-posting. Someone might need to read it again.

  33. Hi Jeff,

    Such a great post! I think I really needed to hear this right about now. I do have one question, though: How do you keep yourself accountable? You say to keep practicing, which is always my goal, but sometimes I find myself feeling run down or defeated when i’m here working my butt off and STILL not getting noticed. I feel like I’m trying to do all the right things and getting nowhere. This makes me feel so run down that I can’t get myself to keep going, but when I stop writing I feel down in the dumps. I love to write and want to be a profitable blogger, but how do you keep yourself going to keep practicing when you’re feeling so down?

  34. I had delusions of grandeur of hitting it big with my first book without a clear plan of promoting it or who I was as a writer. I hadn’t put in the time or practice to develop the skills needed. It’s like someone picking up a guitar and expecting to play like Eric Clapton right away. It takes years of getting the work in and making your own luck to succeed in any business. While it’s fun to dream, dreams don’t come true to dreamers. They come true to dreamers who take one step at a time towards their dream.

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